1 Samuel 23:17
And he said to him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you; and you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you; and that also Saul my father knows.
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(17) And I shall be next unto thee.—To us—who read a few pages on in the record of these times how this same generous, loving friend found a grave on Mount Gilboa instead of a home with David, whom he admired with so ungrudging an admiration—these words of Jonathan possess a pathetic interest of their own. That brave, romantic career was nearly run when he met David for the last time in the woods of Ziph. As far as we can judge, if Jonathan had lived he would have certainly ceded any rights he had to the throne of his father Saul in favour of David, unlike that other comparatively unknown son of Saul, Ishbosheth, who set up as a rival claimant to the son of Jesse. But his generosity was not to be exposed to any such severe test, and David was spared the presence of such a rival as the gallant and gifted Jonathan would assuredly have been to him.

And that also Saul my father knoweth.—It is very likely by this time that the circumstance of Samuel’s mysterious anointing of the son of Jesse years before at Bethlehem had become known to Saul. Now that David had been openly proclaimed a public enemy, and that the king had repeatedly and openly sought his life, there was no reason for any concealment. No doubt, by this time very many in Israel looked on him as the anointed successor of Saul. The covenant alluded to in the next verse was, of course, the old covenant of eternal friendship which they had made when they parted outside Gibeah at the New Moon feast, as we find related at length in 1 Samuel 20.

After this meeting David never looked on Jonathan’s face in life again.

“Oh, heart of fire! misjudged by wilful man,

Thou flower of Jesse’s race!

What woe was thine when thou and Jonathan

Last greeted face to face!

He doomed to die, thou on us to impress

The portent of a blood-stained holiness.”

Lyra Apostolica.

1 Samuel 23:17. Thou shalt be king, and I shall be next unto thee — Or, hold the second place in the kingdom; which words import thus much: I do not look to be king myself, as by my birth I might expect, but that thou shalt be king, God having so appointed, and I but in a secondary place, inferior to thee. The first part of this sentence Jonathan might well speak, as he had the promise of God for it, which must stand; but the other he spoke in human confidence, and the event showed how little is to be built on that. He ought, as we ought all to do with respect to what is future and only in expectation, to have spoken in the language of St. James: “If the Lord will, I shall be next unto thee.” And that also my father knoweth — For he could not but remember what Samuel told him, (1 Samuel 15:28,) and, from David’s wonderful successes, he probably inferred that he was the person of whom Samuel spake.23:14-18 David made no attempt against Saul; he kept God's way, waited God's time, and was content to secure himself in woods and wildernesses. Let it make us think the worse of this world, which often gives such bad treatment to its best men: let it make us long for that kingdom where goodness shall for ever be in glory, and holiness in honour. We find Jonathan comforting David. As a pious friend, he directed him to God, the Foundation of his comfort. As a self-denying friend, he takes pleasure in the prospect of David's advancement to the throne. As a constant friend, he renewed his friendship with him. Our covenant with God should be often renewed, and therein our communion with him kept up. If the converse of one friend, at one meeting, gives comfort and strengthens our hearts, what may not be expected from the continual supports and powerful love of the Saviour of sinners, the covenanted Friend of believers!A touching example of mutual fidelity between friends. The humility and unselfish love of Jonathan is apparent in 1 Samuel 23:17. 16, 17. Jonathan went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God—by the recollection of their mutual covenant. What a victory over natural feelings and lower considerations must the faith of Jonathan have won, before he could seek such an interview and give utterance to such sentiments! To talk with calm and assured confidence of himself and family being superseded by the man who was his friend by the bonds of a holy and solemn covenant, could only have been done by one who, superior to all views of worldly policy, looked at the course of things in the spirit and through the principles of that theocracy which acknowledged God as the only and supreme Sovereign of Israel. Neither history nor fiction depicts the movements of a friendship purer, nobler, and more self-denying than Jonathan's! I shall be next unto thee; which he gathered either from David’s generosity, ingenuousness, and true friendship to him; or from some promise made to him by David concerning it. Or the meaning of the words, next unto thee, may be as much as to say, I shall be under thee, after thee, or inferior to thee, as the phrase tibi secundus oft signifies. So that the whole imports thus much: I do not look to be king myself, (as by my birth I might expect,) but that thou shalt be king, (God having so appointed,) and I but in a secondary place inferior to thee.

That also Saul my father knoweth, by strong and well-grounded conjectures, as hath been noted. And he said unto him, fear not,.... Distrust not the power, providence, and promises of God, nor dread the wrath of Saul, or fear falling into his hands:

for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; to lay hold on him, seize him, and do him any hurt:

and thou shalt be king over Israel; meaning after the death of his father; which he knew either by some special revelation made to him; or rather by being informed he had been anointed by Samuel, and which he had either from Samuel or from David himself; and this he most firmly believed, though David was now in so low a condition:

and I shall be next unto thee; not succeed him in the kingdom; but if living when he came to the throne, he should be the second man in civil affairs, as he now was, and that he should be content with:

and that also Saul my father knoweth; having knowledge of the anointing of David by Samuel; or he might, and did conclude this from various circumstances, that David was his neighbour Samuel had told him of, God had given his kingdom to, 1 Samuel 15:28.

And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be {f} king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth.

(f) Jonathan assured David, that God would accomplish his promise, and that his father warred against his own conscience.

17. Saul my father knoweth] Both that thou art destined to be king (see on 1 Samuel 18:9), and that I am ready to resign my claims in thy favour. This is the climax of Jonathan’s unselfish generosity.But David heard that Saul was preparing mischief against him (lit. forging, החרישׁ, from הרשׁ; Proverbs 3:29; Proverbs 6:14, etc.), and he inquired through the oracle of the high priest whether the inhabitants of Keilah would deliver him up to Saul, and whether Saul would come down; and as both questions were answered in the affirmative, he departed from the city with his six hundred men, before Saul carried out his plan. It is evident from 1 Samuel 23:9-12, that when the will of God was sought through the Urim and Thummim, the person making the inquiry placed the matter before God in prayer, and received an answer; but always to one particular question. For when David had asked the two questions given in 1 Samuel 23:11, he received the answer to the second question only, and had to ask the first again (1 Samuel 23:12).
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